All Dogs Go To Heaven

Saying farewell to a senior pet, Miss Ray Charles

All Dogs Go To Heaven

My dog died Saturday at the age of 14 and took with her a piece of my already wracked heart. When I adopted her last year through Austin Pets Alive, she had so little chance she was named “Hope.” With me, the black, blind, and deaf Chihuahua became Miss Ray Charles and we were inseparable.

It’s fair to say I wanted her to fill the void I call “post-party syndrome.” In 2012, Bruce Springsteen was the special guest at possibly the most stellar night in the entire Austin Music Awards history. But the AMAs remains a Cinderella night. The moment the show’s over, it’s South by Southwest business as usual.

By April, I pined for the phone calls, texts, and emails I was cursing only weeks before. Mid-April, a Facebook friend who knew my habit of rescuing Chihuahuas nudged me about the one called Hope at Austin Pets Alive. When I saw the dog was about to be euthanized, I beseeched my mother, with whom I share a house, to let me bring her aboard. We already had four Chihuahuas, a fifth having died two Christmases ago. Honestly, there was little difference between four and five.

My mother agreed, swayed by the poor creature’s plight and off we went to APA. “Thank you for taking a senior dog. Not many people are willing to have a special needs pet,” the kind volunteer told us.

Senior dog? “Special needs”? What had I gotten into?

Miss Charles made a new fifth in the household, but it was not a happy fit. Blind and deaf, she bonded to me only. Occasionally, my mother could pick her up, but Miss Charles loved me and me alone, snapping at and biting those who dared pet her. She reacted viciously toward my brothers and nephews and routinely attacked my boyfriend’s feet, all the while gathering his dirty socks and underwear for the various nests she would make to sleep on in our end of the house.

I say “our end” because we were forced to set up a rabbit warren of dog gates between my mother’s end and ours, largely to keep Miss Charles from provoking and blindly attacking the other male dogs McCoy and Tavish, who would react in pack mode and set upon her. Even gentle Miss Caswell and wimpy Hoodie were considered enemies by Miss Charles. Soon, no other dogs visited my end of the house because Miss Charles ruled it like a tiny dictator.

My office and bedroom were her domain, along with the long tiled hallway. She roamed its pathways fearlessly, bumping all along the way undeterred. Outside, she trotted freely, head high in the nearly half-acre backyard. I’d take her out and let her bumble the way she liked; she was happy to be outside. Yet she was happiest in the car driving to and from San Antonio.

I’d begun working on the South Texas Popular Culture Center in May 2012, the San Antonio offshoot of the South Austin Popular Culture Center. Tex Pop was focused on San Antonio and South Texas’s contribution to the counterculture, an area of deep obsession. I spent weekends and weekdays in S.A., sometimes weeks. I stayed with friends at a great little B&B, and in numerous hotels that allow dogs.

As any pet owner will attest, traveling with animals involves roughly the same amount of accessories as a baby. Packing for Miss Charles required the Sherpa carrier, wee-wee pads, food, food bowl, bottled water (for rest stops), water bowl, poop bags, the baby sling I sometimes carried her in, plus a pillow, a can opener, various medications, and the all-important blanky. Not being able to see, toys were of no use to her, but she was fond of my dirty socks. In the many hotel rooms we shared, dirty socks and her blanky were familiar amid strange smells.

While traveling, Miss Charles would have none of riding in the Sherpa. The Sherpa was to hold her accoutrements. She must ride on my lap; there would be no other place no matter what, especially not riding in a carrier where she keened so pitifully it brought a tear to my eye. She rode under my shirt, draped across my lap, a feat now possible by my ongoing weight loss. She’d always be good for the average 65-minute trip into S.A., quietly lying across my thighs as I would stroke her soft head when the interstate was open, free to set cruise control and think about mañana.

Miss Charles and I got to know the pet-friendly hotels near the S.A. airport very well and wish to acknowledge the Pear Tree Inn, Holiday Inn, La Quinta, and especially Holiday Inn Express, because not only did the sweet desk clerk recognize us, they offered TCM on their cable lineup and Miss Charles loved their scrambled eggs. Hotel Havana wins major points for their pet-friendly policy amid its balmy Tejano-Cubano atmosphere on the civilized end of the Riverwalk. Never had a bad experience traveling with my dogs at any of these places and recommend them for that.

Neither the death of humans nor dogs is unknown to me and the topic of death is a constant companion. I’ve said my goodbyes to precious family and written obits for beloved friends. I was present at the side of Clyde Woodward when he died. I’ve held three beloved pets in as many years, all taking their last breaths in my arms.

I look to a future that’s limited but limitless.

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